Let’s Get Fabulous
Author: Clinton Kelly
I’ve watched more than my fair share of episodes of “What Not to Wear” over the years. Although I’ve long since memorized Clinton and Kelly’s wise wardrobe advice for my body type (tailored jackets, A-line skirts, wide-leg trousers), it’s always such a vicarious thrill to watch them descend on some poorly-dressed but deserving individual, purging their closets of tragically ill-fitting or tacky garments and replacing them with tasteful and timeless classics. Now, in his book Freakin’ Fabulous, which could also be titled Please Stop Embarrassing Yourself, Clinton Kelly promises to do the same thing to your ENTIRE LIFE. Sign me up!
The book is divided into seven sections, which cover the basics of being a classy grownup: “Dress,” “Speak,” “Behave,” “Eat,” “Drink,” “Entertain,” and “Decorate.” Of course, entire books can (and have!) been written on each of those subjects, so this isn’t the place to go for in-depth instruction into any one topic. It’s more of a sassy, breezy — but never mean or condescending — crash course in how to look and behave tastefully in social situations.
For example, the “Dress” chapter focuses mostly on general dressing strategies for various body types. Everyone has the same questions about concealing or downplaying their body flaws, and Kelly summarizes his advice here, with helpful fashion-sketch illustrations. (Fans of “What Not to Wear” will enjoy the before-and-after photos of real-life people committing assorted fashion sins.) There’s a list of the essential wardrobe items a man or woman should own. For everyone who’s ever agonized over “black-tie optional,” there are also some helpful guides to dressing for special occasions.
“Speak” is kind of a subset of “Behave,” so I’ll cover those together. Before his current fashion guru incarnation, Kelly was a journalist and wrote for several national magazines, so he has a bone to pick about proper writing and grammar. This is the closest the book gets to nagging, especially when he lists some commonly misspoken phrases (“for all intensive purposes”), and — as is often the problem — the people who need them most probably don’t realize it, so there is a bit of preaching to the choir. But it’s worth a look through this section just to confirm that your party manners are perfectly in place. I appreciated the section on thoughtful hostess-gift giving (like how the ubiquitous hostess gift is flowers, but you’re really just handing a busy, stressed person one more thing that has to be dealt with immediately).
“Eat” and “Drink” are perhaps the most practical sections, since they include essential, no-fail recipes for everyday cooking as well as entertaining. The lemon-herb roast chicken is a recipe that literally every meat-eating adult should know, and it’s so simple that there’s almost nothing to remember! There’s an informative breakdown of the different types of alcohol and classic drink recipes for each. One lesson that most young adults learn the hard way is the right way to drink — not just avoiding hangovers and DUIs (although that’s important!), but how to develop a palate for good-quality alcohol and choose drinks that enhance its taste, rather than drowning it in candy-colored artificial flavor. And I speak from experience, now that an unfortunate college flirtation with Midori has matured into an appreciation for a good G&T. If you’re a grownup who drinks, you should have a classic cocktail on standby that you can order without shame in any situation, from a wedding reception to a business dinner. (Hint: if the drink’s name includes a word for genitals or a sex act, it doesn’t qualify.)
“Entertain” is probably the other most useful section of the book for those who haven’t done much hosting and want to feel confident planning an event. This is the kind of information you usually just glean from years/decades of going to better parties than yours and stealing the best ideas you see, but reading this chapter is a lot faster. There are also some classic appetizer recipes and hints about how to be a good guest — the other half of entertaining etiquette.
“Decorate” is a quick crash course in the basic principles of interior design: choosing color palettes, how to mix and match patterns (and when not to), how to arrange pictures on a wall or create tasteful centerpieces. It’s good information, but nothing earth-shaking; in order for the book to have long-term relevance, Kelly stays away from anything too trendy, which is both wise and less interesting.
In fact, that’s my main complaint (insofar as I have one) with this guide. In the pursuit of offering timeless advice, Kelly keeps to the tried-and-true basics of social behavior, which means most of the information is stuff that people pick up during their twenties. So if you’re a reasonably well-behaved adult who’s over 25, there may not be much in here that’s genuinely new to you. However, this would make a useful graduation or housewarming gift for young adults who may have little experience with how to act appropriately in a job interview, dress for a wedding, or be a thoughtful weekend guest. You’re not going to blow anyone away with the tips you get in this book, but that’s kind of the point: social graces and good manners are most obvious when they’re missing. So while it might be a bit more Awesomely Appropriate than Freakin’ Fabulous, at least the snarky jokes and cartoons make the presentation, if not the information, lively and light-hearted.
— Stephanie P.